Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett has today confirmed his intention to stand for the general secretary position when Len McCluskey retires – as the SKWAWKBOX predicted after ‘United Left’ refused to overturn its nomination contest in which far more than enough pro-Beckett voters were excluded from the contest to overturn the ‘result‘.
The declaration means that Unite members are likely to face a choice of three ‘left’ candidates – but thankfully not a ‘split left vote’ scenario, because of changes to the union’s branch nomination rules after the prolonged fiasco of Gerard Coyne’s failure to challenge McCluskey in 2017 and the lengthy series of legal challenges in which Coyne accused the McCluskey campaign of improper conduct and data breaches that Coyne’s own campaign had in fact committed.
Coyne was being touted for a potential second attempt when McCluskey steps down, but he is extremely unlikely to be able to meet the new qualification threshold. Changes to Unite’s rules after the 2017 election mean that if Coyne wants to run again he must obtain nominations from 5% of branches across 3 regions – 150 branches.
This means Unite members will face a choice of three candidates, all more or less from the left – of whom only one is likely to be inclined to stand up for the left in the wider Labour movement:
- Steve Turner – well regarded on the left but has made it clear that he will adopt a pro-Starmer leadership style stance if he is elected
- Sharon Graham – a union organiser who is expected to focus on the industrial side of Unite’s activities and stay out of broader politics where possible
- Howard Beckett – the most strongly and vocally pro-left candidate who has not only made clear his intention to fight for the wider left as well as lead from the front in industrial disputes, but has already demonstrated that he will do so, including:
– playing a leading role in keeping Jeremy Corbyn on the 2016 leadership ballot;
– winning the Birmingham bin worker dispute to protect low-paid workers against the worst efforts of a right-wing council;
– securing the furlough scheme from the Tories when they planned only to inject money into corporate bank accounts;
– saving the jobs of furloughed Labour staff when the new right-wing regime intended to sack them as soon as the full furlough support ended;
– stepping in to serve both Unite and Labour members as a member of Labour’s National Executive
The likely absence of a right-wing challenger means Unite members can make a straight choice of their preferred candidate to succeed McCluskey without fear of ‘splitting the left vote’ – but it’s evident that there is clear water between one candidate and the other two in terms of rallying and defending the movement against its attackers on both the industrial and political fronts alike.
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